One of only two surviving pyramids in Rome, the Pyramid of Caius Cestius—here called, in Italian, the Sepulchre of Cajo Cestio—was built c. 18-12 BCE for Gaius Cestius Epulo. The subject of three views (in Views of Rome and Antichità Romane, v. 3) and a few architectural studies (including a bird’s eye view and a cut-away view in Antichità Romane, v. 3), the pyramid of Caius Cestius held an “obsessive attraction” for Piranesi (Wilton-Ely 1988, 33). It appears in this veduta as one element among many. The ground, built up over centuries, ascends from the base of the pyramid to the Wall of Rome that Piranesi notes in the key. Trees to the left and right emphasize the pyramid’s natural setting. This is the first of the large vedute devoted to this monument, completed in 1755, and it forms a notable contrast with the second, completed in the following year. This image emphasizes the function rather than the shape of the monument: the title casts the image as a view of the tomb [sepolcro]. Surrounded by diminished human figures that are engaged in speaking, gesturing, and, in one case, apparent contemplation with downcast eyes, the pyramid is spotted with delicate foliage in this rendering. Dwarfed by the height of the image, the pyramid—which is in fact rather small—appears enlarged by the small human figures. The monument’s inscriptions are sketchy and incomplete. The upper inscription, which appears on both the pyramid’s east and west sides, reads “C CESTIUS L F POB EPULO PR TR PL VII VIR EPULONUM” [Gaius Cestius Epulo, son of Lucius, of the Poblilian district, chief magistrate, tribune of the people, one of seven priests in charge of public banquets in honor of Jupiter and other religious festivals]. The lower inscription, only on the east side, is legible on the left but does not include the date, on the right: “INSTAVRATVM AN DOMINI MD CLXIII” [Restored in 1663]. During these restorations, by Pope Alexander VII, the two columns, noted in Piranesi’s key to the following image, were discovered and placed in their original locations. What this image might lack in the historical details of archaeological reconstruction, the following image makes up for in its detailed key, which is placed inside its visual frame. (JB)
To see this image in Vedute di Roma, vol 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.